Friday, January 28, 2005


Since this is the new hot thing let's have a flashback to something which was ignored by almost every outlet (Minn. Star-Tribune a notable exception).

Governor Gray Davis wasn’t the only one the sleaze traffickers were set on destroying last week either. A drama played out, mostly under the radar, regarding the 11th-hour charges of "touching" and a "connection" to "sex sites" against the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, the new, openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The fact that the charges surfaced literally minutes before the bishops were to vote on confirming Robinson as a bishop—after weeks of bellowing outcries from conservatives and lots of media attention—was enough to give off the whiff of a smear campaign. But throw in the identity of who broke the non-story and what his connections are, and the stench becomes totally unbearable.

The nasty business began on Monday. As it happened, that afternoon on my radio program I was interviewing Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an orthodox Christian group. The IRD stands against "radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, [and] sexual liberation," and includes a subgroup, Episcopal Action, that opposes gay unions and was fiercely opposed to having Robinson become a bishop. Shortly after our spirited exchange, the vote on Robinson’s fate was postponed, because the charge had surfaced that a gay-youth group he had worked with had links from its website to porn, and, in a separate charge, that a man claimed Robinson inappropriately touched him.

Still on the air, I did a search and found that the source in the media that "broke" the "sex site" story was Fred Barnes in the conservative Weekly Standard, on its website. (Barnes is also a Fox News commentator, which explains why Fox seemed to be breaking it first on television.) I then realized that, in researching Knippers, I’d noticed how Barnes had been named to the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which made his dubious hit on Robinson not only unseemly but a conflict of interest, to say the least.


It’s curious that the orthodox group on whose board Barnes sits, the Institute for Religion and Democracy, is bankrolled by Richard Mellon Scaife and others who funded the smears about the Clintons. I talked about Barnes’ connection to the group on my program, and it was reported on a few websites—pushed by the blogger Atrios—but the only mainstream media outlet to pick it up, as far as I can tell, was the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which connected all the dots in a stinging editorial, headlined "The Anatomy of Smear."

There's no clear line for any of these things. But, there are common sense ones.